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The Welsh in London, 1500-2000

Emrys Jones (ed). Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 2001

Compiled by Gareth Hicks (Nov 2004)


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From the book's dust jacket

London is home to the oldest and largest Welsh community outside Wales.
From the accession of Henry Tudor the numbers of Welsh men and women living in London increased steadily.
Many of the early arrivals were not permanent residents: drovers and weeders were seasonal workers and the top echelons of society divided their time between their estates and their townhouses.
By the mid-eighteenth century London was something of a mecca for Welsh writers and antiquaries.
This was the period that saw the establishment of the Cymmrodorion and the Gwyneddigion and the first meeting of Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain.

The middle of the nineteenth century saw another surge towards London. This was the age of the dairymen and drapers and the rise of the chapel as a focus for Welsh life in London.
During the Depression there was another massive influx as Welsh shopworkers, industrial workers  and domestic servants sought work in the metropolis, and the flow of Welsh teachers to London became even more noticeable in the 1950s.

Emigration from Wales continues today but on a reduced scale.
It is estimated that some 70,000 Welsh-born now live in London.

This is the human story of the London Welsh, with its focus on the comings and goings of ordinary men and women, their cultural and social life, as well as the contribution of some outstanding individuals.


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Illustrations and Charts

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1. Welsh girls played a major role in London market gardens doing such tasks as hoeing, weeding and picking - which caused Daniel Evans, a Teifi man, to write;

O na bawn i fel colomen
Ar ben St Paul's ynghanol Llundain;
I gael gweled merched Cymru
Ar eu gliniau'n chwynnu'r gerddi

(I wish I were a dove on St Paul's in London; to see the Welsh girls on their knees weeding the gardens)

2. Anonymous lines relating to the lack of work for young women in rural Cardiganshire;

Mi af i Lundain Glame
Os byddaf byw ac iach
Arhosa i ddim yng Nghymru
I ddori 'nghalon fach

 (I'll go to London come Lamas if I'm alive and well; I won't stay in Wales to break my heart)

3. George Scharfe's London by Peter Jackson, 1987 has an early reference to Welsh milkmaids;

In 1818 milkmen were a rarity; a far more common sight in the London's streets was the ubiquitous milk-maid. A contemporary writer gives a graphic description of the hard life they led;
"The milk is conveyed from the cowhouse in tin pails, which are principally carried by strong, robust Welsh girls, but a considerable number of Irish are also employed for this purpose. These are the same that retail the milk in the streets of the metropolis, and it is amazing to witness the labour and fatigue these females will undergo, and the hilarity and cheerfulness that prevails among them, and which tends, in a surprising manner to lighten their laborious employment ... The weight they are accustomed to carry on their yokes, for example, for a distance of two or three miles is sometimes from 100 to 130 lbs. By mid-day they had returned to the cowkeepers for more milk, after which they were back on the street until six o'clock. For this they were paid nine shillings a week with breakfast thrown in."
The milk-maid often had a regular round of customers, or 'milk walk'. . . Some were itinerants who 'cried their milk' looking for casual buyers. Their cry of 'milk below' became corrupted to 'mio' which some would interpret as 'mi-eau' - half water, a reference to the fact that it was common practice to dilute the milk.

4. Part of a letter written by a preacher called Robert Hughes in 1830 and quoted in Y Ddinas Gadarn : Hanes Eglwys Jewin by Gomer M Roberts in 1974 - another early reference to the milk trade ;

Cynulleidfa o foneddigion ... Ond yr oedd un yn tynnu fy sylw yn fwy na phawb arall - gwr boneddigaidd yr olwg, tua phump a deugain, yn eistedd tu ol i'r cloc, ar ffrynt y gallery. Tybiwn ei fod yn un o'r East India Company; ond fe'm siomwyd yn fawr wrth fynd i'r Cambrian i'r ysgol brynhawn Sul; pwy a welwn yng nghanol y ddinas, a ffedog las ar ei liniau, a'r piser llefrith yn ei law, yn rhoi cnoc ar y drws ac yn gweiddi 'Milk', ond y gwr bonheddig mawr yn ol fy nychymyg i am dano o'r blaen.

(a congregation of gentlemen ... But one drew my attention above all others, a man of gentlemanly appearance, about forty-five, sitting behind the clock in the front of the gallery. I thought he must be one of the East India Company; but I was greatly disappointed as I went to the Cambrian, to the Sunday School; who did I see in the centre of the city, with a blue apron to his knees and a pitcher of milk in his hand, knocking on doors and shouting 'Milk', but, in my imagination, the great gentleman I had seen before.)

5. Life and Labour of the Poor on London, Second Series, Industries III,  by C Booth, 1903.

Throughout the London milk trade generally the proportion of Welsh masters is very large ... Common report and our own observations lead us to suppose that they number considerably more than 50% of the trade ... they alone among the inhabitants of the United Kingdom can make cowkeeping in London pay; or rather perhaps they alone are content to accept the conditions under which the cowkeeper lives and is forced to work in order to make a living. They are for the most part poorly educated; they speak English very imperfectly ... They are thrifty and self-denying, live in rough surroundings, work exceedingly hard for abnormally long hours and with very small return.

  6. Welsh National Bazaar in Aid of the London C M Churches, 1912

The Welsh churches in London have a long and interesting history, and in their growth and development is seen the history of the London Welsh Community. Established originally to provide a religious service in Welsh for many to whom the English language was strange, they have, in the course of the years, not only increased in size and numbers, but have widely extended the field of their activities. They are primarily religious institutions and no estimate is possible of the work done in this one channel, but concurrently with their purely religious functions, the Churches have also done an immense amount of work of a social and national character. They have provided for the young man and young woman coming to London from Wales something more than the shadow of a home, for they furnish a Society which in its standards of life and conduct has much in common with the village life of Wales, thus forming a link with earlier conditions of life which makes it difficult for youth to rush headlong into the dangers rife in large towns. The particular mission of the Welsh Churches in London is, to safeguard the moral character and to deepen the spiritual experience of the hundreds of young people entrusted to their care year after year by the parents of Wales. This trust involving much labour, sacrifice and love willingly rendered has never been betrayed.

  7. The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge. A Boorde, 1547.

Said to be the very first published book referring to the Welsh;

I am a gentylman, and come of Brutes blood,
My name is ap Ryce ap Davy ap Flood,
I love our Lady, for I am of hyr kynne,
He that doth not love hyr, I be-shrew his chynne

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(24 Nov 2004 Gareth Hicks)

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